Interview with guitarist Leeland Campana | by Thomas Pizzola
There is something timeless about heavy metal. The way it has survived in one form or another since its inception in the early ‘70s. Trends may come and go, but there will always be people willing to bang their heads and throw the horns to some killer tuneage. Some will even go further and start bands of their own.
Visigoth, from Salt Lake City, are one such band. They worship at the altar of true, traditional heavy metal. Lead guitarist Leeland Campana explains what drew him to the sound.
“The most appealing thing about playing traditional heavy metal, both as a creator and fan of this style, is the way that the songs themselves seem to resonate,” he says. “With some other styles of metal, often, the guitar parts or rhythm is more of the emphasis for the song—like in technical death metal, for example—or there is a very specific ‘atmosphere’ that is required to be present for some genres to work. With traditional heavy metal, the emphasis basically comes down to the songwriting needing to be good and to feature good clean vocals. Does the song have a chorus that you remember and made you want to sing along with [it] live? Does the entire song flow well from start to finish? Does it remind the listener at all of other great songs or bands that are timeless classics?”
“These things I’ve listed are extremely vague criteria, admittedly,” he adds, “but tracking down what ‘it’ is about the traditional style of heavy metal that’s resonated so powerfully and has stuck around for so long can be hard to pin down to just a few ideas. I can say, personally, one of the most satisfying things about playing in Visigoth is hearing that our music has connected with someone in a meaningful or personal way. Speaking for myself, I find that the heavy metal songs that matter most to me and that I love hearing again and again, cranked up loud, are almost without exception a classic metal or traditional style band, new and old.”
On their new album, Conqueror’s Oath—which drops Feb. 9 on Metal Blade Records—the band offer up more denim and leather anthems that will get the true to stand up, shake their fists, and bang their heads. That was their intent all along.
“Our main goal for Conqueror’s Oath was to hone in on every songwriting strength we have developed over the years in Visigoth and get it all into this record,” Campana says. “We wanted our second album to be hard-hitting, catchy, and more efficient and streamlined in some ways than our approach for the first album. Part of that process was shooting for slightly shorter song lengths while not compromising any of the ‘epic’ feel we have become known for in our songs. I think we definitely achieved our goals for this record, and we are all proud of it and excited to see what the reception is when it is released. Compared to our level of skill as musicians during the writing and recording of [2015 debut full-length], The Revenant King, over the past few years, we have become much more accomplished in our abilities and experience, and we felt we had a clearer idea of what kind of sound we would shoot for in the creation of this record.”
Campana admits that the band—himself, vocalist Jake Rogers, guitarist Jamison Palmer, bassist Matt Brotherton, and drummer Mikey T.—felt some pressure when it came time to record the follow-up to the critically-acclaimed The Revenant King.
“To say that we felt pressure after the overwhelming positive reaction and support given to us after the release of The Revenant King is an understatement,” he laughs. “Alongside this, though, when we were gearing up to make the Conqueror’s Oath, we felt confident as a band that since that release, we had all really come into our own as musicians and were capable of writing and performing better songs. Having a clear set of goals in mind for how we wanted this second record to complement the first helped us navigate a lot of the ‘sophomore release’ pressure. We knew that we were going to make sure to have soaring, memorable choruses, hard-hitting riffs, solos and hooks that were catchy, and to play to every strength we’ve developed as a band. I don’t think this record will disappoint and is one [on which] I feel that Visigoth has started to develop a bit more of our own unique sound.”
The band also pay homage to their hometown and supportive local metal scene with the song “Salt City.”
“‘Salt City’ is absolutely meant to be an homage to our hometown here!” Campana confirms. “We wrote it because, in a lot of ways, we wanted a song about where we are from that puts Salt Lake City in a positive light that it almost never gets cast in. We all grew up here and cut our teeth learning to be in bands and make music in Utah and in the Salt Lake City area. As far as the rest of the world is concerned, no, there is no reason to pay attention to Salt Lake based upon all the stereotypes about our Mormon population and oppressive theocratic legislation, especially in regard to our liquor laws. The fact is, though, all that is really just a small part of our city, and there is quite a large set of the population here with no Mormon background whatsoever, all the members of Visigoth included.”
“Being a local metal band here, we had tons of support from our local scene as we honed our skills, and there is a huge demand for great live music that gets overlooked maybe a bit too easily,” he continues. “So, maybe it seems a bit tongue-in-cheek to have a song honoring Salt Lake as the city of our origin, but it actually is not ironic at all. I think what makes Salt Lake special for heavy music is that it is just the right size, yet just under the radar enough for bands to hone their skills, thrive, and not get lost in the noise of too many other bands. I guess what I am trying to say is: it makes more large fish in a medium-ish—but not too small—pond.”
In addition, Visigoth are known as a “can’t miss” live act. This is very important to Campana and his bandmates.
“Playing live and being able to deliver a great performance is absolutely tantamount in importance,” he concurs. “I can say with absolute confidence that if a band sounds better and tighter live than they do on their recordings, that will always be better than a band that sounds good on recordings but fall flat playing live. That has always been my rule of thumb when going to see bands play live, then listening back to recordings later.”
“I’m extremely grateful to hear that Visigoth has been mentioned as a good live act, because we’ve worked very hard and with great care to put on the best show we possibly can every time,” Campana adds. “Having good recordings is definitely still important, because generally, they are how most fans will be introduced to your band and will listen to the most rather than seeing your show live. That being said, if I were to choose one skill for a band to learn first and be the most comfortable with, I would say it may be better in the long run to really lock down playing and performing live and, then, learning the recording side of things.”
Visigoth are the complete package. They deliver killer tunes and also kill it in the live arena. Don’t sleep on Conqueror’s Oath, and don’t miss them when they come to your burg.
They melt faces.